Globalization and Bahá'í Relations to World System of Society

By Margit Warburg

First presented at the Irfan Colloquia Session #18
Trent Park Campus: London, England
August 21–24, 1998
(see list of papers from #18)

    The development of the Bahá'í religion and its teachings on the unification of the world is historically and conceptually congruent with the onset of globalization, as it is viewed by the sociologist of religion, Roland Robertson, one of the most productive scholars in the study of religion and globalization. In my present work on the Bahá'í religion I intend toy apply an overall globalization perspective inspired by Robertson's model of "the global field." This field has four constituents: individuals, national societies, world system of societies (i.e. the international political system of states), and humankind, and I have further developed this into a globalization model for describing Bahá'í orientations within the general global field. With slight modifications my model may be applicable to other globally dispersed religions, e.g. Mormonism, Judaism, or Catholicism.

    Many religions address their message to humankind in general, and interaction with the world system of societies is not of particular doctrinal significance (although it may be important in practice). For the Bahá'ís however, the relations to the world system of societies occupy a prominent position in both Bahá'í theology and Bahá'í actions. Bahá'u'lláh's letters to the kings convey both acceptance and rejection of the existing world system of societies and of the world order maintained by this system. The balance between acceptance and rejection has since the time of 'Abdu'l-Bahá been an important theme in the messages from the Bahá'í leadership and the practice endorsed hereby. By and large, there was a sway from an emphasis on acceptance in the period when 'Abdu'l-Bahá travelled to the West, to an emphasis on rejection from the 1930s during the ministry of Shoghi Effendi. This had consequences for Bahá'í priorities in relation to the involvement in public affairs was played down in a climate of Bahá'í millenarian critique of society. With the 1985 document, The Promise of World Peace, a Bahá'í reorientation took place towards more emphasis on acceptance and active interaction with the world system of societies, first and most represented by UN system. This historical development will be illustrated with examples ranging from statements by the Bahá'í leadership to specific incidence of Bahá'í practice.

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